Teenage Wasteland

Bluegrass_Jacket New titles are published in the True Crime every year but new voices are rare. Anyone who cares about the genre has to wonder when the next Ted Olsen or Darcy O’Brien or Shana Alexander is going to arrive. Or wonder is they’ll ever arrive at all. A new voice has arrived with Bluegrass.

The lives of three young people, all barely out of their teens, intersect as a typical college frat party. The girl gets her heart broken, gets drunk, acts out and then gets tossed out. One of the boys has spent the party passed out in a pickup truck after an all too successful pre-party. The second boy is unimpressed by his first frat party. By morning the girl is in ICU suffering horrific injuries. The investigation and murder trial that follow leave many questions unanswered.

William Van Meter tells this story with nary a trace of hysteria and what’s even more impressive is that he also does it without an ounce of condescension. Life in semi-rural Kentucky would be filled with only alcohol and Ten Commandments road signage in the hands of other writers but Van Meter avoids the clich├ęs. He shows us the aimless lives of the two boys and the semi-aimless life of the girl, their stunningly bad choices and their almost innocent kindnesses. His occasional commentary on their lives is devastating in its brevity. Case in point is his assessment of Stephen Soules: “a sluggish existence wholly in the present – a life structured around ‘chillin’.”

This is the rare true crime book that is successful despite a genuine ambiguity about what actually transpired. Van Meter never hands the reader an easy out of “this is what I think happened”, leaving us to sort it all out for ourselves. It’s not a perfect book, the writing could stand a bit more polish in places but this is Van Meter’s first book I’m willing to overlook a few rough edges when the overall content is this good. At 240 pages this is a short book well worth the time of any True Crime fan. Highly recommended.

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